Saturday, June 11, 2011

find the darkness

This weekend I attended the Trafficking in America Conference in Nashville. I hardly know where to begin.

Human trafficking is, by definition, "the commercial exchange and exploitation of humans including forced prostitution and pornography, involuntary labor, servitude and debt bondage". Ever since I heard about the issue of human trafficking a few years ago, God has just been breaking my heart over the issue and has continued to stir that passion more and more over the years. Granted, there are a million issues and injustices in the world over which my heart breaks, but there is nothing like this one to me. The fact that there are young girls and boys (as well as adults) who are literally being held as slaves for the sole purpose of giving their bodies away day and night is one of the most horrific tragedies that I can imagine.

We received an insane number of statistics this weekend, but here are some of the ones that stood out the most to me:
  • There are approximately 300,000 trafficking victims today in the U.S. ...yes...right here (and if there are 300,000 victims used 30-40 times a day, how many men are participating in buying women and children? Do the math...)
  • There are only 50 beds in safe-houses for these 300,000 victims. (My good friend and I have been continually praying about the possibility of opening a home for victims in the states...this fact just encouraged/inspired us even more)
  • Every minute, two children are forced into sex trafficking. That means that in one full day, 2,880 children have been forced into this horrific world (if I did my math right....)
  • Sex-trafficked children are raped 8-30 times per day
  • There is $32 billion in total yearly profits in human trafficking
  • "Pimping" is an art...good grief, it blew me away. These people are highly skilled at what they do (and are actually able to share their skills through various pimping books and conferences held nationwide).
  • The average cost to "de-virginize" an 8-9 year old is $50K (the younger they are, the more expensive they are)
  • The vast majority of prostituted children in America are American girls (most people think that the majority are girls from other countries that are shipped to the states)
  • For you Tennesseans, 78 out of the 95 counties in TN have had some form of human trafficking in the last two years
But.....statistics are faceless. They are numbing. And as Christine Caine (founder of the A21 Campaign) says, "A statistic is just a number until you meet the one."

Well we got to meet a few of those "ones" this weekend. There were a few trafficking survivors who shared their stories at the conference, and it was these women who inspired us to hope and to action. The problem is massive and overwhelming. You can feel defeated before you even start. But if it weren't for the brave men and women who decided to move on this issue, take a stand for justice, and be an agent of healing and hope, I wonder if any of those survivors would have the incredible stories that they have. They were once caught in some of the most horrific stories of abuse, terror, darkness and despair and are now thriving, full of hope, educated and married with their own families.

All I could hear in my head while I was listening to their stories was:

Into the darkness you shine, out of the ashes we rise.
There's no one like You, none like You
Our God is greater, Our God is stronger,
God you are higher than any other.
Our God is Healer, awesome in power.
And if our God is for us, then who could ever stop us.
And if our God is with us, then what could stand against.

(I don't care how tired of that song you might be...those lyrics kick some serious tail)

I feel like I'm going to be digesting things from this weekend for days and weeks to come. We were able to meet many people involved in fighting this problem as well as restoring its victims, and we now have a list of people just in the Nashville area with whom we will be meeting in the weeks to come to learn, dialogue, and possibly collaborate with.

So...I write this post for two reasons:
  1. I just want to continue to be part of raising awareness of this horrific issue in the world.
  2. I want to challenge you to ask God to break your heart for what breaks His. As I said earlier, there are countless ways that our enemy is attacking in this world. By no means do I expect people to be passionate about this issue. But I pray that God would give you eyes to see the broken and the hurting and give you a fire in your gut about something out there, whether it be a heart for the sick, the addict, the poverty-stricken, the broken family, fill-in-the-blank.
I once heard Christine Caine tell this story of when she and her son go out and buy a flashlight and in his excitement in the checkout line at Walmart, he asks, "Mommy, can we go out and find some darkness?" The kid's got it right! As followers of Christ, we are here to bring His light into this dark and hurting world. And until we get that, I fear that we lose our purpose.

I continue to believe that God is calling me to move in this issue. I still don't know for sure what that specifically means, but there was this amazing feeling as we left the conference that we were like an army - a united front - just ready to go out to pierce the darkness in the name of Jesus. I love the unity that happens when the people of God join together in His name to fight. And if our God is with us, then what can stand against! Let's go find some darkness...

We watched this video at the conference (yes, a tad cheesy but still...powerful message...)

For more information regarding sex trafficking (and to find out how you can get involved), check out these sites:

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

be still

Okay so first of all, to my blogging friends, don't even try to figure out my blogging patterns, because even I can't figure them out. It's like once every few months, I just feel a blog coming on, so...I write! But I can't figure out the method to my journalistic madness..either way, here goes...

It's close to impossible to explain what the last few weeks have been like. In November of last year, I knew that I knew that I knew that God was calling me onto a new path. I wasn't burned out on youth ministry by any means, but I knew that God was prompting me (very strongly) to move on some things that He had been stirring in me for years. I'm going through the "A Call To Die" Bible study right now and today's study talked about how a real walk with God is an adventure because He "lets us get into patterns that give us some stability, but as soon as we are established, he leads us in a new direction to new experiences of enjoying him and letting him use us." Amen to that, David Nasser.

I served as the assistant youth minister at Harpeth Community Church for six school years. The youth at HCC are true close as blood brothers/sisters. Honestly, I feel like they might as well be my own children. I have gone through every level of experience with many of them. I have cried with them (and for them), laughed until I couldn't breathe, hurt for them, tried to protect them, been overwhelmed with pride over them, wanted Jesus so badly for them, and have loved them in a way that I truly - TRULY - never knew was possible. They made my heart so full.

That being said, this has likely been one of the hands-down hardest things I've ever done. Thing is, I knew it was going to be hard. I was trying to prepare myself for it...thinking that might make it easier. But it was harder than I even thought it was going to be. It's amazing how those kids and that ministry have become such a massive part of me. It was as if (and I know this sounds a little dramatic but it is, nevertheless, true) there was this part of me that was actually dying.

This leads me to my point (...yes, I'm getting there). I have realized over the past few weeks how, no matter how many times I teach and preach on this topic, I tend to place my identity and my worth in what I do and in what people think about me. To some extent, I don't know how this can totally be avoided. But for how many times I have tried to drill this idea into the heads and hearts of the teen girls with whom I've worked, you'd think I would have this thing conquered! (I know....funny)

I realized that I've been in this youth ministry for six years and I started to wonder if I even was going to know myself outside of ministry. My identity had become "youth minister", "big sister", "mentor", the "go-to girl for problems"....I was used to being needed and valued and sought out...and now, that identity was about to be stripped. Thankfully, I anticipated this identity crisis coming, and I'm thankful that God gave me the heads up on it; otherwise, I might be having a real freak-out right about now.

I took the "Strengths Finder" test a few months ago and it told me that my #1 strength was "Achiever"...which was totally - and somewhat annoyingly - not a surprise to me. I'm one of those people that always has to be doing and achieving and performing. Yes, this can be a strength. And yes, I have to constantly keep it in check lest it become a big problem. One of the problems that can result from this "need to achieve" is that my identity and my worth tend to be tied to my achievements. Therefore, if I'm not achieving, my sense of worth begins to drop. (Side note: A dear friend of mine, Monique Zackery, wrote an awesome post on this very topic...check it out here)

Problem is, I do not know what is next for me. I have some ideas, some dreams, a little direction, but I don't know specifically where I will be or what I will be doing one year - or even 6 months - from now. This is hard for me. Because one season has ended, but it's like the next one hasn't begun yet. And this "achiever" really needs to be "achieving", so it's driving me crazy to not have the next thing in my life ready and waiting on me to perform!

BUT...I believe and I know that God has been telling me, "not yet". It's the weirdest thing. I so rarely feel like I'm hearing super specific things from Him, but this one is so specific and clear. He wants me to wait. He wants me to be still. He wants this "achiever" to stop achieving for a little while. He wants to remind me of who I am - not because of anything I can do - but because of who He is and what He has created in me. He wants to remind me of the greatest gain - HIM. Nothing I do or achieve, no ministry, no external (or even internal) blessing, no relationship, nothing is of more infinite worth than Him. "Whom have I in heaven but you? And earth has nothing I desire besides you."

So I feel like He's just inviting me into this season where it just gets to be me and Him. A season to be rejuvenated and reminded of the One necessary thing in my life. A season of preparation. I don't know what's next but I do believe that whatever is coming is way, way "bigger" than me. So I think He knows that this season of being still and of allowing Him to pour into my heart and my soul is absolutely vital for whatever is next.

I'm excited. I'm so looking forward to putting aside my "Martha" tendencies and be a "Mary" - to just sit at His feet. The "achiever" in me may be wrestling with this season (however long it will be...), but the Spirit in me is saying, "No, this is good. This is necessary. This will be LIFE giving. Treasure this season. Be still and know..."